Studying in Texas as a Kenyan

This article was written by John Kibarah, who is Kenyan and spent one year studying in Texas.

Sometimes we have stereotypes about ourselves, and they affect our abilities to live to our full potential. This is something that I witnessed when I was young, but thanks God, I could extricate myself from the labyrinth of such beliefs. I Strongly held that being born in Africa denied me lots of opportunities to succeed in life. However, realizing myself helped me land my feet in places I thought I would never go. Up to date, I still relive my moments at the University of Houston, Texas, where I completed my M.A. in Health Communication in 2016. 

Memories are great, and sometimes nostalgia takes the better part of me. At such moments, I love remembering boarding the plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, my family in tears over me (Maybe they thought I would never return). However, behind their tears was hope that I would study in Texas and come back home a better person.

Away from that now. I want to dedicate this piece to you if you love studying in Texas. Have you wondered how life is there? What will you do after you arrive? How are the classes? What is the bank system like? Well, these are some important aspects I want you to understand pretty well today. Are you ready?

How do you prepare to go to a Texas University as a Kenyan?

The first thing after you decide the university to join is preparing to leave. You need to apply for a passport and a visa earlier enough to avoid the last-minute rush. The application process for a passport in Kenya is done online, and after printing the duly filled forms, you should take them to the Department of Immigration for processing.

The application for a visa is done through the Embassy of the United States in Nairobi. Since the applications take up to four months for each, you have to factor in the time.

What are the biggest challenges of studying in Texas as a Kenyan student?

Although studying in Texas as a Kenya student comes with great pleasure, it does have some challenges. Most of these include the following:

  • Obtaining a visa to study in the United States is a big puzzle to unravel
  • Financial hurdles
  • Language (US accent)
  • Difficulties in the social settings e.g., law

Studying in a different environment for Kenyan students is always a big dream. It comes with a golden chance of exposure and learning. However, some challenges come with finances, settling, adjusting to new environments, and others. With the right mind, flexibility, and proper preparation, there are high chances of adapting to studying in Texas pretty quickly.

Is It Easy to Integrate as a stranger in A Texas University?

After you arrive in Texas and you are admitted to the university of your choice, it is relatively easy to integrate as a stranger thanks to the department of International Students that gives you an excellent orientation in most Texas universities and colleges.

You will understand the admin offices, the library, lecture halls, conference rooms, counseling offices, students’ affairs office, the student recreational centers, fitness rooms, and the various sports grounds.

Academically, you might take some days to adjust several things. First, you will need to be used to the new English accent. English is a second language in Kenya, and British English is common. Thus, there is an adjustment needed, and this takes a little while. It’s possible to think that passing TOEFL is enough. But, you need to go an extra mile, like watching American soaps to be used to the accent.

The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX, USA. Credits to Savannah Rohleder

Are The Classes Hard to Follow?

Classes in Texas universities come in somewhat similar settings to the Kenyan classes. However, you’ll find some differences from what you are used to in Kenya. Since Americans believe that all people are equal, class participation is common. Therefore, the sessions are dominated by questions and answers, debates, and knowing your professor is a common thing.

Once you get to a class in Texas, you’ll note that the theoretical workload is less than what you’re used to in Kenya. But, this is replaced with a practical aspect of your studies.

In What Language Are Classes Given?

Most of the classes in Texas universities are offered in American English. But some special classes take foreign languages. For instance, you can have special foreign language classes.

What will you enjoy?

Everything is new, from the classroom structures, the people you’ll meet, the roads, the meals, to the environment. Thus, if you are the adventurous kind, you are in for a great time to enjoy a totally different learning setting.

You will have a moment of trying new meals, including fajitas, breakfast tacos, Texas stew, and brisket. If you’re not in class, you can have a new friend and visit the Houston Museum District, Buffalo Bayou, or Hermann Park.

You will also enjoy the relatively low cost of living in Texas, compared to other states in the United States. Even if expenses cost more in the United States than in Africa, living in Texas is affordable.

How Do the Banks in Texas Work for Strangers? 

Now that you are a student in Texas, you’ll need to have a bank account for your funds. Most preferably, you need an accountant who supports sending and receiving money from overseas. Therefore, doing some preliminary research is vital to get the best option.

To apply for a bank account as a Kenyan student, you need to ask yourself if your choice offers online banking services. If yes, try registering your student account online. If not, you have to visit a bank branch in Texas for an account opening. When opening an account, you’ll need the following:

  • Your visa
  • Addresses and full contact details 
  • Your proof of studying in a university in Texas
  • Any other form of identification from your Texas college

Do you need insurance to study in Texas as a stranger?

As a Kenyan student in Texas with either J-1 or F-1 visa category, you’ll be required to purchase a health insurance policy for international students.  The policy covers your health for all the years you’ll be based in Texas for your degree program. Alternatively, you can apply for a waiver of the insurance policy, implying that your medical expenses are covered by another government or by an employer.

Is there a culture shock for Africans studying in Texas?

One obvious thing is that adjusting to a new culture is not easy. As a new student in Texas, there are things that you’ll take time to come to terms with.

One thing you’ll note is that people in Texas love eye contact. So, you’ll probably think that everyone wants to smile at you. Again, the Kenyan culture is that you have to avoid the police car even if nothing is wrong. Now, imagine you running or diverting your way because you saw a police car approaching you; that would seem strange in Texas!  Before I forget, you will also be shocked that unlike in Kenya, where you keep guessing the tribe affiliation of an individual in school, you’ll not be able to do so in Texas.

However, time will help adjust to so much, including the time zone difference itself. I found it funny that I slept during the day and stayed awake during the nights before my brain system shifted to the Texas time system. The following video shows you the usual things that impress Africans who move to America.

Credits to VOA Africa

Is it easy to make friends and party as an African studying in Texas?

You are likely to stay indoors for several days though this depends on your personality. If you are an introverted Kenyan student, it’s possible to spend many days before you make friends in Texas. But, if you’re outgoing and social, you’ll possibly socialize with your classmates first. From here, you are sure to go places as they understand Texas well. 

Are you a party animal? Even if you’re not, you’ll occasionally attend birthday and house parties at the invites of your new friends. But if you want to experience it outside, you can consider going out to high-end dance clubs or sports pubs at the Midtown or Rice Village districts.

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